Toronto Real Estate: The Reality of Home Inspections

After years of attending Home Inspections, some of them my own, I have learned a few lessons that I thought would be good to share with you:

No Home Inspection is perfect:

Even if you were to buy a brand new Home today, the Home Inspector would find some issues that need to be dealt with. That is their job.

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Moore Park

Manage your expectations:

In reality, Houses are ongoing projects, costly and full of surprises. The job of the Home Inspector is to minimize some of those surprises and to educate you in helping to recognize issues where they may be or may appear.

If you are buying a Victorian Home (built in the late 1800's), don't expect that all the wiring, plumbing, insulation etc. will be of a 2013 standard. Building codes change constantly; what was "building code" five years ago, no longer is, what was great insulation 30 years ago, no longer is...that is reality. Before you shop for a home, set out what your "deal-breakers" are. If you want new construction don't look at renovated properties...if you want Victorian Communities you must accept that few will have parking or garages

Home Inspectors are People:

People make mistakes. They will miss things that may be costly. Again, manage your expectations.

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Can you live with the Faults?

There are some issues that are routine maintenance and should not be feared, they are just a part of owning a home and of course, there are others that are "deal-breakers". Those depend on your level of acceptance...there is nothing that cannot be fixed or dealt with...the big question to ask your self is this "at the end of the day will I get what I wanted and paid for".

After the Home Inspection

The home inspector will give you a "blow-by-blow" of what they feel needs to done on the house...many times when I visit clients 3 or 4 years later, none have been done. Not good, if you are planning on selling...however it does point to the urgency of some of the suggestions from the Home Inspector. The reality is that house problems do not get better on their own. You house will not heal itself and a lot of times when left alone the final bill will only get larger. If you are selling at any point, 95% of buyers if not more, will insist on a Home Inspection and I doubt that what was an issue when you bought would have evaporated.

Create you own "hit list"!

Create you own "hit list" and either do it all at once or prioritize and attack each issue one at a time. My tendency has been to do as much as possible at once or group things so that there is as little disruption as possible. Some things like: grading the land away from the house, new furnace and air conditioning, even termites (depending on the level of damage) would not frighten me. New furnaces and Air Conditioning rate much higher efficiency today and you can earn back their costs in a few years...It never ceases to amaze me that a Client or Realtor would bring an $600,000 to $800,000 to the market that needs a new $5,000 furnace, but they do.

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Termites in Toronto are a fact of life.

Don't expect your teeth never to get cavities. If you live in an area with sandy soil in Toronto you must be careful. Termites are not the problem...it is their eating habits...know that you must check for them often, have treatment (if they are found) and buy Termite Insurance. Be constantly vigilant as you would with any health issue. Roofing is the biggest issue that arises during Toronto Home Inspections. It is our own fault. We seldom go on our roofs to see what is happening and most of us are at the mercy of Roofing contractors. We will pay a huge amount of money for the latest and greatest kitchen appliances but negotiate till we are "blue in the face" to get the cheapest roofing job possible. Roofs are just not sexy!

Issues that arise during the Home Inspection. Over the years I have seen many issues that arise during a Home Inspection. They usually fall under three main categories;

Did the Seller know there was a problem but chose not to disclose it?

When there is no disclosure by the Seller of something that the Seller is aware of and the Buyer and their Realtor find out, there is an obvious lack of trust that occurs. The deal is tainted and even if both parties have the same goal, it is hard to come to a consensus. With as much due diligence is possible, I would counsel my Buyer clients to "make sure that at the end of the day, they are getting what they were expecting should they choose to move ahead"...

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Was the Seller unaware that there was an issue?

This is probably the largest category. Some people are very house proud and are constantly maintaining their properties and upgrading. They never stop...I fall under that group and friends will tell you that my house is always being worked on... But there are other Sellers that out of no malice at all are totally impervious to any maintenance that needs to be done. They just don't see it and are only aware if someone else points it out to them, like a Realtor or a Building Inspector.

Was the Seller aware but not concerned?

There are some Sellers that feel that some house maintenance falls under that category of "that is how it was when we bought it so..." or "it was never a problem for us so"... In one of my listings the basement shower did not drain when the Seller purchased the house, they thought, because of that, that they did not have to provide a draining shower to the new buyer. The house was listed as having a full 3 piece bath in the basement. A subsequent visit from Roto-Rooter cost $100 to have it unclogged. However, as I learned that hard way, I, their Realtor, was never told that this was an ongoing problem till after the Building Inspector found it. No one looks good with egg on their face! If they would have disclosed I would have said that if they are not prepared to do the work,they also not claim to have a 3 piece bathroom in the basement. The cost of the $100 visit was much less than the loss of value they would have suffered and at the end of the day, they could have had a second bath for all the years they lived in the house, rather than fighting over one bath. In all cases it is first and foremost, "Buyer Beware" but also make sure you realize that you have options. Depending on the marketplace, you can always walk from the Agreement, renegotiate a price that reflects the work to be done or rewrite the offer putting the onus on the Seller to repair the problem before closing. Again my guiding rule is "Are you getting what you thought you were buying?"

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Did the Buyer FIND an Issue After Buying a Property?

Years ago a consumer bought one of my listings, and after living there for 10 years and having children, he decided to finish the basement as a bedroom and playroom for his children. A few years later he decided to sell it and a pre-listing inspection was done and then the new buyer decided to do another one as part of the Purchase. After the sale was completed it was found that there was dampness in the basement and the Buyer felt that the Seller had known.

Knowing that there was dampness, why would the seller have finished the basement and put his children down there to sleep and play. It did not make sense and the house had been there for over 100 years with no dampness problems. Sometimes "Shit happens", the water table moves or the next door neighbors downspouts re rout.

Sadly the Buyer will always assume I was complicit and knew there was dampness. I did not.

  1. Brick basements were never meant to be finished, Brick is porous and if you plan to finish one, call a specialist.
  2. The City of Toronto has all sorts of underground rivers and streams...construction up the block from you can cause a rerouting of dampness.
  3. Millions of years ago St. Clair Avenue was probably a beach head, South of St. Clair is very sandy, not clay and City water flows down from there to the lake.
  4. Again, "shit happens". I have had to replace all the drains under my house at a huge cost, but I chose to live on a street with huge trees that I love. Did I say "shit happens"?

Do not assume that the Realtor has been made aware of the issues. Yes, sometimes they are complicit or feel that it may not affect the value of the property and therefore is not pertinent. My rule has always been that you should disclose everything that you know about the property. Any personal or financial issues that the seller or Buyer may be going through are not part of any discussion to be had with either party however. If you have proof that the listing Realtor was complicit or did not do their due diligence, please contact their Real Estate Broker. If not successful, contact the Real Estate Council of Ontario, our regulator.

Foundations:

Foundations are just that! They are really important...don't throw good money after bad by renovating and upgrading a property that does not have a solid foundation. Houses with older brick foundations were never really meant to have finished basements. Don't expect to put a finished basement in a home with a Brick foundation unless it is above the water table. Make sure that you have done all your homework and dealt with professionals if you choose this path. It may be much more costly than you think. Windows, Doors and skylights are mostly decorative...but in our climate they are important. They have a shelf-life, need maintenance and the more recent ones have higher "R" factor. Know however, that the latest and greatest windows, doors, skylights, furnaces, air conditioners and roofing materials etc. will be outdated at the time you install them.

Contact Me:

Please feel free to contact me for some good names of trades in the Toronto area. They are hard to come by and always, always ask them for the phone numbers or email addresses of their last three clients. Lastly, make sure that the warranty that you get for the work done, stays with the property and does not become null and void if you sell the property. Sometimes Sellers tell me they have a ten year warranty but when they read the fine print...it is only good as long as they are still the owners. 

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